A Fresh Look for an Old Memory

Today’s post was written to the word prompt “Fresh” as part of the Five Minute Friday community of writers.  Let me invite you to read the inspirational writing of other writers on the same topic at http://www.fiveminutefriday.com 

I was blessed with a mother-in-law extraordinaire. Shirley loved me fiercely, prayed for me often (even before I met her son), and lived an exemplary life as a devoted follower of Christ. She gave me, her “daughter-in-love,” as she called me, a few of her earthly belongings which serve to remind me of her love. Over the years she’d hand us a bag or a box full of surprises as we headed out the door after a little visit. One item bestowed upon me was a blouse she enjoyed wearing–a denim blouse with colorful hot air balloons embroidered on the front of it.

One day, our eldest granddaughter Violet was using her gift of organization by tidying and reorganizing my perpetually messy craft room.

My craft room

As Violet carefully sorted fabrics into color families and folded them into neat little stacks, she came across that colorful blouse of her great-grandma’s and asked me what I was going to do with it. I told her its story and that I was thinking I might reuse the fabric to make a book bag or something someday. Violet remembered her great-grandma wearing it. Her eyes lit up with an idea!

“Can you make a jacket for me?”

I hesitated a tiny bit because refashioning clothing was outside of my realm of sewing skills, but told her I would try. With all the faith in the world that grandma could do it, she folded the blouse and put it on my project pile (on top of the pile, of course, with a sticky note that indicated it would be my NEXT project).

After more than a few searches on Pinterest for some inspiration and ideas on “upcycling” and “remaking” clothing, a design idea began to form. Violet really wanted a jacket, but there wasn’t enough fabric to make the sleeves, so I decided I’d create a little vest with an inset of pretty lace on the back. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find lace that I liked in my stash or at the fabric store, so checked the local resale shop. I was about to walk out of the store when I spied a lacy sleeve peeking out of an over-crowded clothing rack. There it was! A beautiful lace blouse made entirely of the kind of lace I had in mind AND it had long sleeves that I thought I could use to create the jacket Violet desired.

I thanked the Lord for helping me find the needle in a haystack and hurried home to start my special sewing project. Here it is!

A fresh look for an old garment, made with love and a prayer that Violet will follow in the faithful footsteps of her God-loving great-grandmother.

A Family Story Found in an Unexpected Place

According to my Facebook post on January 1st of 2015, on that date in history I found one of my mother’s memories from January 1st of 1955!

How cool is that?

I had been going through mom’s jumble of paperwork, trying to find the important documents I would need as her power of attorney. Mom’s once neat filing system was a jumbled-up mess, due to the confusion of her mind caused by Alzheimer’s. I recall I was making good progress taming that paper tiger and that I found a few delightful surprises in the process.

One such surprise was a file folder labeled “Peet Family.” This file contained many treasures. Old black and white photos. Letters and cards. Newspaper clippings. Obituaries. Genealogy timelines. Tucked into this file category was a simple green pocket folder. I flipped it open, fully anticipating that it had something to do with the Peet family genealogy.

And it did – sort of.

It was a cookbook filled with favorite family recipes which had been compiled for a family reunion in 2000. I had fun taking a break from my sorting project to page through the recipes. The faces of family I had only seen when I was a young child came to mind as their names popped up on the righthand corner of each page. It was exciting to see the name “CHARLOTTE PEET-BOYLES” pop up here and there.

“Charlotte’s Layered-Spinach Salad” was in there, as it should be. It was one of those salads she made often for potlucks or when family would gather at her house for birthdays or holidays. Another family favorite was “Charlotte’s Dream Whip Torte”! My sister would often request that dessert for her birthday. It was not a surprise to find her “Never Fail Pie Crust” recipe was in there too. She never liked making pies until her friend from work shared that recipe with her.  

As I flipped through the cookbook, I noticed that some of the recipes had a family story included. Once I realized this, I went back through the recipes attributed to mom to see if I could find a recipe where my mom had contributed a story. And there it was included under a recipe called “Clara Gall-Peet’s Upside Down Cake.” Clara was my grandma, so I felt like I had found a double-treasure with this recipe and the giggle I received as I read the sweet little story mom told about her early baking attempts.

  

The date confuses me a little, as mom and dad were married in July of 1955, but, at the bottom of the cake recipe, my mom had reminisced,

“My Mom was a good cook and if you arrived unexpected at dinner-time she always had room for you at the table and enough food to go around. This is the first cake I tried to make after I got married. In fact, the date was January 1, 1955. Total disaster for there was no cake – all bottom or top, depending which way you look at it. I had copied 1 ½ tablespoons flour instead of 1 ½ cups. It took me three tries before I got it right.”

Charlotte Peet-Boyles

A Childhood Christmas Memory

Three ears were listening to the voices and metallic clinking sounds coming from the basement. Picture three pajama-clad siblings, Cindie, Brad, and Vivian, each with one ear to the 12-inch opening to the clothes chute in the hallway outside of our bedrooms. Judging from Dad’s frustrated comments about missing parts and lousy instructions, we knew SOMEONE was getting a bike for Christmas (and assembly was not going particularly well).

We three Boyles kids, Christmas of 1963

Our parents didn’t know that we were secretively listening to the bike assembly endeavor. After all, it was Christmas Eve and we were supposed to be ‘nestled in bed while visions of sugar-plums danced in our heads’! Hearing mom’s footsteps coming up the basement stairs, we each scrambled to our respective beds feigning sleep. When the three of us finally succumbed to sleep, I am sure the sugar-plums in our dreams looked more like a bike parked next to the tree with OUR name on the gift tag.

Imagine our great delight when Christmas morning dawned and three bikes sat perched on kickstands around the tree! If we didn’t live in snowy Wisconsin, we three kids would have been riding up and down Milwaukee’s Stark Street in our pajamas ringing the bell or honking the horn Dad had attached during his after midnight assembly project. For today, our Dad would drag those bikes back down to the basement and our bike-riding adventures would begin.

1963, Cindie Vivian and Brad with our beautiful mom

Grandma’s Wonky Christmas Tree

My Christmas tree is a little wonky-looking. A bit oddly shaped, no matter how I fluff it, stubbornly refusing to stand up straight in the rotating base. It has a bit of a wobbly jewelry-box ballerina pirouette going on as it twirls round and round slightly askew. But I love how my wonky tree sparkles as it does its little lopsided twirly dance.

Continue reading “Grandma’s Wonky Christmas Tree”

“We’ve Had the Better.”

I’m sharing my friend Wendy’s post today. I first called her eldest sister Bonnie my friend when I was in highschool. A few years later, her sister Suzy and I developed a bond of friendship through ministry in our local church – a friendship which has endured and grown. Fast forward a few more decades when pursuit of higher education brought Wendy (the youngest sister) to live in the area where I have lived for the past 20 years. It was my joy to see a sweet bond of friendship grow and it was truly a sad day when she moved away. But God was in the moving around my friend did for the next several years, for it led her to the man God had prepared for her to marry.

What a sweet privilege of friendship it was to create Wendy’s wedding bouquet and to witness the poignant moment that she has written about in this reminisce. I invite you to read it and, when you’re finished reading, implore you to linger awhile on her blog to read the related posts. You will be blessed. I promise.


15 Little Things I Love

Dirty feet – because it means I have been in my garden

Daylilies – each blossom a unique work of art

The faithful love of a husband – a big thing, really

Hugs from a grandchild – there is nothing quite like a child’s embrace

Birdhouses – caring for God’s creation and a blessed time of crafting with my grandkids

Birthday Cakes – a sweet celebration of another year of life and growth

My Bible – for the life change that happens with time spent within its pages

Rain – for watering the earth and for leaving glittering jewels in the garden

Zinnias – God’s colorful stage for the flutter of butterfly dances

Green – for the way its various shades and hues frame all of the other colors of God’s creation.

Hydrangeas – for the serene beauty they bring to my garden

Peanut butter silk pie (from Perkins) – a whole day’s worth of calories rolled into once slice of my favorite date night dessert.

Colored pencils – because they remind me of my mother

My painted garden chairs – because they make me think about the love of the artistic grandgirls who painted them

Old photos – for the stories they tell

The Table – A Place to Gather

I think one of the things I miss the most during this time of pandemic isolation reality is being able to gather around a table with those I love. I don’t think I’ve truly understood the importance of ‘gathering together’ in my life until now when it isn’t advisable to do so.

Tables are made for gathering, and so are we.

Every room in my house has a table. Some just gather stuff: a bedside lamp and a stack of books; a little collection of photos and a jar of buttons. But most tables are designed to be a place where people sit and gather.

In our home, there’s the gem of a dining room table we found in an antique shop in downtown Milwaukee. It came with six chairs, three leaves and a sideboard. The rattan seated chairs have since been replaced by some Amish built oak chairs of a sturdier variety.

Then, there is our wonderful kitchen table purchased shortly after moving into our home 20-something years ago. I fell in love with that table when we were shopping for a couch – actually, I think it was the table’s matching china cabinet that I fell in love with, but hubby was willing to buy the whole set for me. The table has taken a beating over the years, but it’s still our favorite place for family and friends to gather for a meal, to work a puzzle or play a game, or sing “Happy Birthday” and enjoy the requisite cake.

This favorite table of mine has a little drawer on one its long sides. Matt and Beth always sat on that side of the table. I didn’t find out until they were all grown up that whenever they didn’t want to eat something on their plate, they would wait until I wasn’t looking and then tuck whatever it was in the drawer. Later, when no one was in the room, they’d return to the scene of the crime and remove the disgusting food and hide it in the garbage can. It would not have been a laughing matter if they were caught doing that back then, but it is now. Whenever I sit at that table to craft or sew, I see that little drawer and smile.

My favorite table in its present abode – my craft room…and a glimpse at Matt and Beth’s drawer.

Memories are even etched in the table top itself. If you look at its table top from just the right angle and in the right light, you’ll notice years and years of homework assignments, letters, and grocery lists etched into its soft pine wood. My favorite table continues to gather memories of this sort (along with paint splotches, glitter and glue) as my grandkids gather around it and work on various arts and crafts.

Tables are made for gathering. I hope that my favorite table will be a place to create and gather memories for many years to come.

The Hidden Grace of Social Distancing

I’m a familiar face at Oregon Manor Skilled Nursing Facility in Oregon, WI. Normally, I’m in and out of there several times a week, transporting my brother Brad to or from somewhere or another, or just stopping by to bring him a smile and a cup of coffee (and a donut, if he’s lucky).

Things are a bit different now. Now I can’t go in at all.

On Monday, I rang the doorbell to the skilled nursing facility and then waited on their front porch. Tom, the facility’s administrator answered. I told him I was there to pick up Brad for an appointment at the VA. Tom went to get Brad from his room and then delivered Brad and the necessary paperwork with his medical information to me on the front porch. Tom apologized for being unable to let me in, but I understood; it was for the safety of everyone, myself included.

Even purchasing a cup of coffee for my brother was entirely different, somewhat strange experience.

I usually stop at the Kwik Trip just down the road from where Brad lives and pop in to buy him a cup of coffee to drink on our way to the hospital. Brad likes their coffee, so it’s a treat for him. Today I couldn’t pour him a cup of coffee and fix it the way he liked it because they had suspended all of their self-serve food and beverages. No worries, though. Thankfully, an employee, donned in gloves, poured Brad’s Kona dark into the extra-large cup, then added half & half until I said “when” – he likes a LOT of half & half, so “when” took awhile.

Our route takes us through the UW-Madison campus, normally teaming with student activity. Not this time. No students on bikes. No pedestrian traffic. Businesses that cater to student customers seemed forlorn and bereft of customers – some looked closed. Definitely an easier commute, but sad at the same time.

We needed to answer more than the usual screening questions at the VA’s parking garage, which seemed cavernously empty. In stark contrast to my usual squeal of delight when I actually am able to find a handicap parking spot (with my brother giving me the amused side-eye), we were both in wide-eyed wonder that we had our pick of ALL the prime handicap spots today. In fact, ANY spot would have been large enough to maneuver my brother in and out of the car with his wheelchair. It was like a ghost-town.

The procedures for gaining access to the hospital changed too, so as to minimize the risk of infection. There was a designated entrance with closer scrutiny and screening, and explicit directions to use an entirely different designated exit to minimize contact. There was no wait for an elevator (although there was one man on the elevator who protested that we got on it with him); it’s really hard to practice social distancing when you’re in an elevator and pushing a wheelchair.

Checking into the podiatry clinic was different too. A line of blue tape on the carpeting masked off a safe distance from the clinic’s reception desk. Brad and I had the pick of ALL the spots in the empty waiting room in the Lighthouse Clinic’s waiting room, where we normally have to find a spot within ear-shot in a nearby hallway. Very few patients are being seen, but they wanted my brother to come in because he is at great risk for bone infection and they are concerned about the possibility of him losing his big toe. I’d show you a picture, but trust me, you don’t want to see it.

Working with a skeleton crew in their clinic, the doctor himself came out to call Brad back to an examination room. Normally dressed in standard issue scrubs, today he was wearing a mask and had a hospital gown over his scrubs; the gown wasn’t the usual disposable gown made of blue paper, rather the cloth type one wears if they are an in-patient in the hospital — you know, the ones that tie in the back and leave your backside exposed. He carefully examined Brad’s toe, emphasizing how important it was that we get this problem under control in order to avoid amputation. Brad routinely refuses care in his nursing home, so I’m hoping that this frank discussion put a little more cooperation in him. We’ll see.

In no time, we were headed back to Oregon Manor. Arriving at the same porch where I picked Brad up, we rang the doorbell and reversed the procedure. I thanked Tom and Brad’s nurse for all they’re doing to keep residents safe and healthy, assured them of my prayers for wisdom and protection, then headed home.

It’s a beautiful spring day and it was late-morning, so I decided to make McKee Farms Park my destination on my way home. The luscious fresh air is still a little nippy, so I buttoned up my jean jacket and headed to the paved walking path. It’s my custom to pray as I walk. Today I thanked God for the people who, at risk of their own health and welfare, take care of my brother and my mother. Walking, praying, and enjoying the beauty, I couldn’t help but notice how social distancing is evident even here at the park with people keeping the recommended 6 feet of distance between themselves. The playground was eerily quiet, with no children enjoying it, even though they are all out of school.

But you know what? I noticed something else at the park too – something nice. Families. They weren’t hanging out at the playground with the kids running around and parents seated on benches looking at their cell phones. Moms, dads and kids were out walking or riding their bikes together. They were talking, smiling and laughing together. One dad was out there teaching his little one how to ride a bike. Another dad was helping his kids fly kites while mom pulled a little picnic blanket and snack out of her backpack for them. One family was taking a walk ahead of me on the path, and the kids were having fun practicing what we’ve come to know as ‘social distancing’ as they held onto the ends of 6′ ropes.

As I continued my little prayer walk, I thanked God for showing me another hidden grace of this difficult time when we’re being advised to shelter at home and practice social distancing: families truly enjoying this slower pace of life together.

I would love to hear from you! Please share in the comment section below one of the “hidden graces” you have noticed during this crazy time of responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Simple Blessings: Attending a Grandchild’s Concert

The simple blessing of being able to attend my sweet granddaughter’s symphonic band concert on Wednesday night was not lost on me. My husband and I could both go to the concert. Together. We didn’t have to take turns going to these special events anymore. We didn’t have to hire a caregiver or ask a friend or family member to come spend a few hours with my mom. We could just go.

As we waited for the concert to begin, I looked down our row of seats in the high school auditorium and was caught up in a beautiful moment of realizing I was sitting here with my daughter and her family. I could sit next to grandson Charlie and give his back a scratch while we waited for the concert to begin. I could ask him during the concert what his favorite instrument was – percussion, if you’re wondering too. During the concert, I watched Henry, seated at the end of our row, totally taking in the music. I remember comparing Henry’s silhouette with that of his mother seated next to him – how fun to notice the similarities in their facial features. It made me smile. Even sitting next to wiggly George and helping him cover his ears during the loud or “scary” parts of the music was a special blessing to my grandma-heart.

Our flautist. (Such a strange word.) How fun to see Violet seated next to Izzy, her friend since kindergarten.

Of course, I relished watching Violet play her flute. When did she grow up to be such a poised and beautiful young lady? The obvious enjoyment she had in making music with her friends just thrilled my heart. The music was amazing – I could not believe this band had been practicing together for only two months.

Being able to attend this concert was a grace gift – a hidden blessing of having my sweet mom in memory care. My heart was reminded that I need not regret our decision to place mom in assisted living memory care earlier this year – it was an act of love – for her, for me, and for my family.

Our Porch Kitty

A few summers ago – 2015, I think – I was sitting on the ground pulling weeds from my front flowerbed when a sweet kitty crawled into my lap. Kitty had me from its first contented purr as I pet his head in response to his gentle head-butting insistence.

The next day, kitty showed up again while I was sitting on the porch glider taking a rest from puttering around in the garden. He hopped up on the glider and then crawled into my lap, kneaded my gardening apron, then did that circular little dance kitties do when they’re about to claim their favorite sleep spot.

I remember thinking, “I think this kitty just chose me as his person.”

One morning I woke up and saw kitty sleeping on the glider. That didn’t look very cozy to me, so I put a folded blanket on the glider for him. Later, I opened the front door to go sit with kitty and noticed that kitty had left a little present on our welcome mat. It was small, furry, and had a tail…but didn’t have a head anymore. It was obvious kitty had chosen us as his family, and had given us the gift of his leftover prey as a token of his devotion. He would continue to give us similar presents several times a week.

Wayne fell for the benevolent kitty too and began leaving food for it on our porch. People food and kitty food weren’t his favorites; Kitty much preferred his food…ummm, fresh.

Now Wayne had a very devoted fur-buddy, who literally followed him everywhere in the yard. Unfortunately, Wayne is very allergic to cats, so we couldn’t bring this stray kitty into our home. Kitty didn’t care – in fact, he seemed to prefer romping around in the great outdoors. He just kept showing up on our front porch, peeking in the front window meowing at us to come out and pet him.

The neighborhood scuttlebutt was that this stray cat had once belonged to a nearby neighbor on the street behind us. Word had it that they moved back to India to be closer to family and left kitty behind.

We named our new porch kitty Smokey because his pretty gray fur had little white stripes that resembled little whisps of smoke. We sometimes called him a “her” because we didn’t REALLY know. If you read my Facebook posts about the cat over the past four years, you’ll see I bounced back and forth calling it a he or she, him or her, and spelling its name “Smokie” or “Smoky,” or “Smokey.” The cat never seemed to mind my indecisiveness, but our veterinarian friend later confirmed it was a neutered male, based on what he didn’t see…and because he had a broader face and deeper ‘meow’ more typical of male cats.

Our family got in on the kitty lovin’ too. Our daughter gave us a rabbit hutch she was no longer using. Wayne painted it the same color as our front door. It fit perfectly in a sheltered corner of the front porch right by the front door. I filled it with old towels and blankets and our Smokey moved right in.

I stopped at Goodwill and bought the kitty a little divided food dish. But, the next thing we knew, we were buying things on Amazon for the cat. Food, of course, as he had now been won over to having most of his meals coming out of a bag. Since he would be an outdoor kitty, a heated pad to keep him warm in his little house during Wisconsin’s nippy winter weather was next. Of course, he also needed a heated water bowl too. And a brush.

Some people have a dog to greet guests at the front door. Not us. Our kitty startled many a guest by popping out of his house as they rang our doorbell. Our mailman LOVED our porch kitty and lavished lots of attention on him whenever he’d deliver a package. The grandkids loved to sit on the glider and brush or pet him. He even kept my sweet momma company when she’d occasionally sit with him on the glider and brush him, or talk with him through her bedroom window.

This past week, we noticed that Smokey didn’t eat his breakfast. No worries. His appetite has grown smaller as he has grown older – and he still sometimes prefers to catch a fresh meal once in awhile. Wayne went out to fill his dish at suppertime and found that his breakfast still hadn’t been touched. Now, that was a bit odd. Come to think of it, Smokey hadn’t been hanging out in his little home all day. I took some clean blankets and towels (fresh from the dryer) out to his house. Smokey usually comes running when I change his bedding and will hardly let me get the new bedding situated in his cozy house before he crawls in and makes himself at home.

He didn’t come. In fact, he didn’t come home all weekend. He’s still not home. Sadly, we know in our hearts he isn’t coming home again.

So, goodbye sweet Smokey kitty. We hope you found a nice cozy spot to lay down for your final sleep. We miss you already. We loved being your family. Thank you for choosing us.